JERUSALEM — Barack Obama's visit to the Western Wall was a public event. The handwritten prayer he left there was meant to be private.
But as soon as the presidential candidate doffed the requisite skullcap and left, a snoop pulled a folded piece of paper from a crevice in the ancient wall and offered it to the mass-circulation Maariv. The newspaper's decision to publish it Friday, under the headline "Obama's note," provoked a storm of criticism in Israel.
"Lord — Protect my family and me," the unsigned note said. "Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will."
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs would neither confirm nor deny that the note was Obama's, but the handwriting was similar to that in another message written by the presidential candidate this week in Israel. Also, the note was written on stationery of the King David Hotel, where Obama stayed this week.
Shmuel Rabinovitz, the rabbi who manages Judaism's holiest site, was furious.
"The notes placed between the stones of the Western Wall are between a person and his maker. It is forbidden to read them or make any use of them," Rabinovitz told Army Radio.
The Western Wall is the lone remaining outer retaining wall of the second biblical Jewish temple, which was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, and is revered as Judaism's holiest site.